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Farewell party for DKFZ Chairman and Scientific Director Otmar D. Wiestler

No. 30a | 03/07/2015 | by Sel

On Thursday, July 2, 2015, the Chairman and Scientific Member of the Management Board of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Professor Otmar D. Wiestler, hosted a festive reception to say farewell to the DKFZ after eleven years. About 500 friends and supporters from government, industry and science, as well as employees, came to the reception to thank the Scientific Director for his work and to offer their best wishes in his future endeavor as President of the Helmholtz Association.

from left to right: Prof. Josef Puchta, Dr. Simone Schwanitz, Prof. Otmar D. Wiestler, Bärbel Brumme-Bothe, Prof. Harald zur Hausen

In his welcome address, Administrative Director Professor Josef Puchta – Wiestler’s colleague on the DKFZ Management Board – compared the years working together with Wiestler to “a rope team in mountain climbing.” He said that these teams start out as teams of convenience that then need to develop blind trust in each other before disbanding again after completing a tour. “Of course, that does not exclude the possibility that the old rope team may not climb one mountain or another together again,” Puchta said. “We had eleven fabulous years of working together. During this time, we did not always agree, but the bottom line is that we have achieved an incredible amount of things.”

Bärbel Brumme-Bothe, Department Head in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), said that on the one hand she regretted seeing Wiestler leave the DKFZ, but on the other hand she looked forward to collaborating with him in his new function as Helmholtz President. “You have been an innovator in cancer research and have done an excellent job,” Brumme-Bothe praised Wiestler in his work as a leader, also explicitly emphasizing that this had only been possible “with the support of your excellent employees.”

Brumme-Bothe noted that Wiestler has instrumentally formed and further advanced the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg, a collaboration between the DKFZ, Heidelberg University Hospital, and the German Cancer Aid (Deutsche Krebshilfe), as Germany’s first Comprehensive Cancer Center. Last year, he persuaded the German government and the states of Baden-Württemberg and Saxony to further expand the NCT and to establish the NCT partner site in Dresden. She added, “He even achieved this for sites that are already receiving very generous support from the government.” The NCT also served as a model for the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), which was founded in 2012. In the DKTK, the DKFZ has teamed up with eight university hospitals across Germany with the goal of achieving a swifter translation of findings obtained in cancer research for the benefit of patients all over Germany. “Without you, there would be no DKTK and probably no German Centres for Health Research either,” Brumme-Bothe summed up. “With perseverance, you have managed to convince policymakersto finally invest 25 million euros annually into translational cancer research, which is further supported by the states.

Dr. Simone Schwanitz, Department Head in the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of Baden-Württemberg, objected to the statement made by her colleague from the Federal government, noting that Heidelberg certainly has not received too much funding since the money is particularly well invested here. “We were pleased to give 20 million euros toward the expansion of the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg,” she added. “For Otmar Wiestler, the position of DKFZ Chairman was more than an occupation, it was his passion!” She continued to say that with this passion, he almost always managed to convince funding sources of the importance of his plans.

Wiestler’s predecessor in this office, Nobel Prize Laureate Harald zur Hausen, praised his “devotion to the DKFZ and the DKTK and his extraordinary feel for science management.” He noted that he was particularly pleased that Wiestler also pushed forward and further expanded projects that had already been initiated during his own term of office – for example, the long-standing partnership with Israeli colleagues from scientific institutes such as the Weizmann Institute. At the local level, Wiestler also launched important collaborations. One example is DKFZ’s alliance with the Center for Molecular Biology at Heidelberg University (ZMBH), which was forged in 2007 with a focus on basic research in the molecular and cellular life sciences. He stated that under Wiestler’s leadership, the DKFZ has opened up to collaborate not only with partners from academia but also from industry. For example, the DKFZ entered into strategic alliances with Siemens and Bayer HealthCare with the goal of advancing radiology and the development of novel agents. In addition, the DKFZ now has collaborations with Roche, SAP, Merck and Molecular Health in the field of personalized cancer medicine. “And, of course, he was lucky to find in Josef Puchta an administrative partner with whom one can well embark on new building measures.” In Wiestler’s term of office, the DKFZ’s main building was completely renovated, a new building for the NCT was erected, and construction of the Radiology Research and Development Center was initiated.

Webster Cavenee, Chairman of the Scientific Committee of the DKFZ, spoke of the “bittersweet moment” that this farewell meant to him. He commended Wiestler’s intuition for spotting “amazing young talents” and attracting a whole number of them to the DKFZ. He continued that Wiestler’s major achievements in the field of science during his term of office included the expansion of cancer stem cell and brain cancer research. In both fields, the DKFZ now occupies a leading position among research centers worldwide.

For Professor Jürgen Mlynek, Wiestler’s predecessor as Helmholtz President, the evening was not a farewell, but rather a new beginning: “The DKFZ loses you, but Helmholtz gains you!” He emphasized that as Vice-President for Health of the Helmholtz Association, Wiestler had already initiated a number of programs such as the National Cohort, the advancement of personalized medicine in cancer research and beyond, and the German Centres for Health Research. “It is not enough to know and to want things, you also have to do them.”

Finally, Otmar Wiestler himself took to the podium. “This is a moving moment for me,” the outgoing DKFZ Chairman and Scientific Director admitted. “But then again, one should always leave while things are best.” He stated that the DKFZ is currently in an excellent state. Since 2004, its budget and the space it occupies have almost doubled and the number of employees has increased from about 2000 to more than 3000. He continued that the generational change that had been due at the DKFZ in 2004 gave him the opportunity to recruit many new minds to the Center and, thus, also to establish new research areas such as cancer stem cells and brain cancer. “A favorite project of mine has always been the NCT,” Wiestler admitted. “The DKTK was one with severe birth pains, and my personal highlights were the two Nobel Prizes.” Wiestler wished Wolfgang Wick, his successor who had been elected that same evening (see press release no. 30), the same experience of receiving such calls from Stockholm.

“As Helmholtz President, I will stay committed to supporting the DKFZ and will actively help secure its role as an engine of health research in Germany,” Wiestler promised. The guests thanked their friend, colleague and boss with sustained applause and, at the reception that followed, raised their glasses to a wonderful time with Otmar D. Wiestler.

A picture for this press release is available for download at:

With more than 3,000 employees, the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. DKFZ scientists identify cancer risk factors, investigate how cancer progresses and develop new cancer prevention strategies. They are also developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to questions relating to cancer.

To transfer promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improve the prognosis of cancer patients, the DKFZ cooperates with excellent research institutions and university hospitals throughout Germany:

  • National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT, 6 sites)
  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK, 8 sites)
  • Hopp Children's Cancer Center (KiTZ) Heidelberg
  • Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON Mainz) - A Helmholtz Institute of the DKFZ
  • DKFZ-Hector Cancer Institute at the University Medical Center Mannheim
  • National Cancer Prevention Center (jointly with German Cancer Aid)
The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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